Thursday, June 26, 2008

El jardín de las delicias

Thomas Mann reports that a writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. Surely the same is true of language learning for those who love language. To feel you've crafted something clunky and unbeautiful is much more aggravating than feeling you've not quite gotten across what you wanted to say. It is common to mistake love of language for love of languages, but that is to mistake love of gardening for love of garden parties. There is something solitary and contemplative in the former that fails to resonate in the latter; the latter has an element of showmanship which the former lacks.

Francine Prose writes of the pleasure of close reading, the practice of considering the purpose and placement of each word in a text. It's a very intimate way to read and in all ways antithetical to the skimming that FSI prefers. Reading for the gist only allows for the joy of discovering information rather than the joy of discovering deeper structures; in the moment, I find I'm much less elated at recognizing the word for 'crude oil' than I am at intuiting which preposition a verb should take. I've been feeding this preference by reading an Arabic children's book during my lunch break: a heavily illustrated soft cover entitled "The Story of the Pearl Thief." Moving forward in the book requires me to look up almost every other word, so that it has taken me a week to get through not quite three pages. I'm afraid this may be cutting in to my lab time... but today when I realized that the root of 'You're welcome' and 'I'm sorry' was the verb 'to forgive', it was like feeling the sun on my face. It was all I could do not to get up and dance.

After progress test one the examiners told me, "You've got very good architecture, you just need more vocabulary. Oh, and you should really practice reading for the gist."

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Frustrated Bureaucrat Turns to Graffiti


After laughing at this recent addition to the Out of Order sign, I realized I've walked past this machine every day for the past four months and thought the same thing as the graffiti writer each time -- yet had never taken action on it. I felt somewhat disappointed by my own inertia. Granted it's pretty far down the spectrum, but I don't think it's all that different in spirit from watching a man get hit by a car and doing nothing.

The main obstacle to getting things accomplished always seems to be accountability. There's no contact number to call on the vending machine itself and no one on-site that I know of to talk to about improvements. The best I could do was send an inquiry through the "Ask FSI" intranet page to point out the problem and find out who's in charge. Seeing as those Navajo Jewelry 2 cent "Make Up Stamps" were last printed in 2005, it seems about time.